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SPI broadcasting course inspires ex-funeral undertaker

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SPI broadcasting course inspires ex-funeral undertaker 

By Siphesihle Nkwanyane

GRAHAMSTOWN-- Who would have thought that a funeral undertaker would land in the challenging media landscape and still do well?

Well, this is the case of former funeral undertaker George Visser, who is now a station manager at Lichvaal Stereo, an Afrikaans community radio station in South Africa’s North West Province. And Visser was one of the participants of a week-long management course in broadcasting held at the Sol Platjie Institute for Media Leadership at Rhodes University recently.

The course ran from 20 to 24 July and saw 11 broadcast managers from both television and radio come together to refresh their knowledge, understandings and work competencies on the rapidly evolving media landscape.

According to Visser, he was a funeral undertaker before he got employed by Lichvaal Stereo as Station Manager in 2012. “Well, I have experience in management as I previously ran a funeral undertaker business for a couple of years”, he told me.

He says that although the media industry is very different from other forms of businesses, his previous management experience is the reason why he has survived the turbulence of the media industry, where many companies, especially in the West, have collapsed and left thousands of workers unemployed because of hyper-competition from emerging digital and social platforms. 

Visser says that regardless of his management experience, the media industry has many expectations such as prompt information or news delivery to audiences who are always eager to know what is going on around them.

He says his greatest challenge so far has been that other players in the industry are not willing to share information and he has had to learn on his feet in order to stay ahead of competitors. 

Despite his lack of media management-specific work experience, Visser said he had ironically never attended a media course. “I know this might sound strange but this is my first ever media course since I became station manager in 2012”, he chuckled.

“However, I am very grateful to the Sol Plaatje Institute for organizing this amazing course because, as a media manager, I have learnt that media is a business and should be treated like one in order for it to be successful and sustainable,” he said.

For Visser, the broadcasting course was an eye-opener because, he says, he also learnt that media managers must not assume they know what their audiences want but rather find ways to get in touch with them and find out what they want through frequent research on their needs, thus building strong relationships with them and, in turn, giving them good quality content.

He says he also learnt that a media house’s integrity, underwritten by its ethical conduct, is vital for its survival as audiences want depend on a media house that can be trusted because it seeks to report news truthfully, factually, impartially and transparently.

Visser says he is looking forward to attending more SPI media management courses and workshops to sharpen his knowledge and be a better leader.

So far his radio station is doing well under his leadership, he notes, but acknowledges that there is still much more that needs to be done to improve the Afrikaans radio station, which currently carries 80% of community news and 20% of news that happens around other parts of South Africa.